An Oral History of the Laffey
in Jordan, 1970
by Kenneth Rohloff
Yes I was aboard for that excursion. We referred to it as the "Jordanian Crisis". This is my story and I'm gonna stick to it.....
Laffey was in Toulon, France for a two day visit. First day went by and what ever the "Liberty" schedule was went down. I want to say it was about 2:30 AM, that first day in port, and the ship that was with us, USS Dewey, had a boiler explosion, killing several crew members, including BT1 Smoke, who was a former Laffey crew member. As it turned out, virtually all of the Dewey crew along with everyone but the "watch" from the Laffey, the base fire dept and the Toulon fire dept ended up fighting the boiler fires that reflashed several times and claimed even more BT's from the Dewey. We finally put the fire out and recovered all of Laffeys "rescue" detail and equipment about six that night. Marvin "Chip" Murray, SFM2/C, comes to mind every time I think of this day and his heroics in trying to save the "nuclear armed" Dewey. We all had a quick meal and hit our racks, as we were virtually worn out from fire fighting.
About 8 o'clock that same evening, everybody was awakened with set the sea and anchor detail and prepare to leave immediatally... Being the leading electrician, I had to muster my boys together, not only to lite off the generators, but we had to take down the "med lights" that we had strung the morning before. This meant sending someone "up the stick" (the mast) to disconnect the strongback cables that were strung from stem to stern, (that would be "fantail to forecastle" for you nautical types, and along the guard rails the complete perimeter of the ship. We had to screw and unscrew all of those damned light bulbs whenever we hit and left port. The ship was in an "emergency situation" and coordination with the bridge and most importantly the radar and radio guys was of the utmost importance so that my guy didn't get fried. I sent one of the boys up the stick and disconnected the strong backs with light cables and bulbs attached. The poor SOB had to be up there while the ship was firing up the boilers; and what a lovely site seeing 2,000 light bulbs being broken while in their sockets. Anyway to say the least, Laffey was well underway before the electricians finished cleaning up and storing the 1500 feet of lights that were the "Med lites". Can't really tell you the politics of the whole matter, but I think Jordan was threatening Israel, and if I recall the Old Man" said that our mission was to go up some river and rescue embassy people. I personally was scared to death and wrote a "good-bye" letter to my wife. We spent days and days getting ready for battle. Now I know that up in the "radio room" you boys were a little busy. But the snipes had 1 gajillion things to take care of. Electricians had equipment torn apart with nuts, bolts and all kinds of equipment that needed to be stored safely in case we were hit. We also had to run our regular maintenance, four and eight watches in both engine rooms, 12 hour work days and worked around the clock to insure that all electrical equipment was operational, along with battle drills all day long. Engineman, Machinist Mates, BTs, Damage Controlman and Shipfitters ALL worked around the clock insuring the 25 year old Laffeys readiness. I am sure the whole ship was doing the same, but I was focused on what I had to do. I can say that EVERYONE on the ship was exhausted and scared.
This went on for 41 days....We virtually did not see land, remained ignorant to the situation and saw other US ships only for refueling (which was ALWAYS in the wee hours"we wouldn't want the Russians to see") and replenishment. I am an early riser, and was always one of the first people in the chow line, and that 42nd morning I remember VERY CLEARLY coming up from the mess decks by the forward diesel entrance, and seeing ships everywhere. There were ships covering the ocean all around us all the way to every horizon. Hundreds of them from all countries....There was 3 US carriers and all of their attached contingents, along with NATO ships, and the complete Russian (Soviet) Med group. VERY IMPRESSIVE!!! The 42nd day, the day everyone "stood down" was a spectacular day of showing firepower. I say spectacular, because that is the day I realized that the 25 year old Laffey could be destroyed at will. A huge fleet of US ships headed for Athens and we were all turned away as the harbor had been mined by somebody, until the mine sweepers got in to do their thing. Liberty was a free for all with thousands of horny drunken sailors invading the city.
Told you "everything" I can remember after 36 years. It was a VERY unpleasant time for Laffey sailors. Maybe Bob or Fergie can add something....EM2/C